Tory bloggers are planning a ruthless demonstration of how much better they are at internet campaigning than their left-wing counterparts by trying to use Twitter to oust the Labour MP who was recently appointed the party’s ‘Twitter Tsar’.
Their target is Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, an assiduous user of the social network site, who was appointed last summer by Labour’s campaign organiser, Douglas Alexander, to train her fellow Labour MPs how to campaign on line.
Ms McCarthy has made enemies of some of the leading Tory bloggers, including Harry Cole, who blogs under the alias Tory Bear, and Iain Dale. They are fronting an online campaign to get her ousted from her seat at the next general election.
It is uphill task, because Ms McCarthy held Bristol East in 2005 with a majority of 8,621, with the Liberal Democrats in second place. Undeterred, the ‘KerryOut’ campaign, launched yesterday, has raised £1,300 in donations for her Tory challenger, Adeela Shafi. They have created a website, with edgy graphics, a YouTube video with drum and bass music, and a ‘kerryout’ hashtag on Twitter, and are planning a bloggers’ bus that will arrive in Bristol East during the general election, to publicise the Tory cause.
Some reactions on the internet today suggested that the campaign might backfire because of its seemingly negative message, but Mr Cole defended the decision to focus on removing an MP rather than on supporting her opponent.
“It’s a campaign against Kerry McCarthy, a campaign to highlight her failings as a politician,” he said. "No one knows who Adeela Shafi is, at the moment, so we are playing to what people know.
“I don’t think Kerry McCarthy is a good MP. She had a very low profile until she was appointed the Twitter Tsar. She has never broken the party whip.
“She very aggressively attacked me personally on Twitter. She compared my views on climate change with (the BNP leader) Nick Griffin’s and asked what else I had in common with Nick Griffin. That’s what caught my attention first. Frankly, she pissed me off and it has snowballed from there.”
“Kerry talks as she is an expert on the new media. Actually, there is a lot she doesn’t know about how it’s done.”
McCarthy has also made an enemy of the leading Tory blogger, Iain Dale, who has put her first on his list of ‘Labour MPs I'd most like to see kicked out of Parliament at the next election’.
Mr Dale was furious when she blocked his replies to her entries on Twitter. He told his blog readers: “Kerry McCarthy has demonstrated that she isn't fit to be an MP. All you have to do is follow her online activities, especially on Twitter, to see why.”
Ms McCarthy dismissed the bloggers’ campaign in scathing language today, claiming that it is likely to have no effect in Bristol East.
She said: “All that is motivating them in the first place is petulance and puerile attention seeking, but I think it’s got tacit support from Conservative headquarters, because they can use it to show how you can do online campaigning. They are sock puppets – people who come out and do Tory HQ’s dirty work.
“The only reason that any of this stuff could be important is if it translates into on the ground activity locally, but I have seen no support for it in Bristol East. This is what we call astro-turf – a campaign that looks like it comes from the grass roots, but actually it’s fake grass.
“Bristol East is a down to earth, mostly working class place, and the idea that a few metropolitan bloggers would try to dictate what happens here could work in my favour.”
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